Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Astronomers discover a new planet that has moved into our solar system. Dubbing the planet Nova, a team of four astronauts, Dr. Ralph Martin (Bill Bryant), Dr. Patricia Bennett (Wanda Curtis), Dr. Richard Gordon (Douglas Henderson) and Nora Pierce (Patti Gallagher) travel to the planet and discover it’s pretty much just like Earth, only with GIANT MONSTERS! Most of the movie is padding as the two couples flirt around with each other and then two of them decide to explore the scary looking island in the middle of a lake that contains “dinosaurs” like an iguana and a caiman fighting each other with frills taped onto them.
Directed by Bert I. Gordon, a man famous for his quick shooting in B movie circles. This was actually the first movie he directed and, well, there’s not a whole lot to it. Four actors in fairly simple costumes in Southern California occasionally interacting with animals. The set piece of the movie is the “dinosaur” attack, and, well, they’re lizards. Regular reptiles with the actors chromakeyed in front of them. The reptiles themselves look like they’ve been goaded into attacking each other for real, so I guess animals WERE harmed in the making of this picture. Now, I’m not huge on animal rights or anything, but seeing a caiman/small crocodile biting down on an iguana in the name of a bad movie is a little uncomfortable to watch. Simpler times, I suppose.
Story by Bert I. Gordon and Al Zimbalist, written by Tom Gries. The story is pretty damn light in terms of anything at all of consequence. Some of the humans get pretty injured but nothing really comes of it and Planet Nova is conveniently Earth-like, so the astronauts get out of their spacesuits as quickly as possible. Simply put, the story feels like a rush job. And there’s some of the standard “nukes=bad” elements common to the genre.
Original music by Louis Palange & (Uncredited) Gene Garf. It’s your standard B movie soundtrack.
It’s a movie called King Dinosaur for crying out loud. You should know whether it’s something you’d want to watch or not. For my part, that answer is yes, because I like bad movies and this fits the criteria: It’s a movie. It’s bad.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Regina "Reggie" Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) is a wealthy young woman who’s on holiday in the Alps and plans on divorcing her husband when she returns home to Paris. He beats her to the punch by getting himself thrown from a train to his death in the pre-credits sequence. At his funeral, a colorful band of shady looking types (Tex Panthollow (James Coburn), Herman Scobie (George Kennedy), and Leopold W. Gideon (Ned Glass)) make sure he’s dead and Regina starts wondering just what’s going on. She gets called in to the American Embassy by a CIA Agent named Hamilton Bartholomew (Walter Matthau) who explains that during WWII, her husband was part of a group of people who stole a hefty sum of money that technically belongs to the US government. Her husband stole the money from them, but being as he was the only one who knew where it was, a treasure hunt with deadly consequences commences. Oh yes, and along the way Reggie meets the charismatic and mysterious “Peter Joshua” (among other names) (Cary Grant), who’s reason for wanting to find the money changes as often as he changes names.
That’s really about all that I can say about the plot without stumbling into spoiler territory. Just trust me when I say that the plot twists fly fast and thick in this film, but they all make sense by the end of the movie. Basically, if Alfred Hitchcock had ever decided to make a romantic thriller in the 60s, this is the movie he would have made.
But it’s not Hitchcock who directed this. It was Stanley Donen (who’s done all sorts of big films like Singin’ in the Rain, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Damn Yankees and some films that aren’t musicals). The visuals and pacing of the film are both outstanding. Paris looks great (as it usually does) and the pacing is lightning quick as we move from scene to scene with a near-manic urgency (which works perfectly for the mystery). Characters seldom get a chance to catch their breath, and when they do, well, its basically for Hepburn and Grant to have fantastic chemistry together as their characters struggle to trust each other as they fall in love. Also, the final chase scene and showdown is exceptionally tense and well-edited, so bonus points for that.
Screenplay by Peter Stone and based on the story “The Unsuspecting Wife” by Peter Stone and Marc Behm. Funny thing is, the writers shopped the story around first, got no bites from Hollywood, so they published it as a novel under a different title and lo and behold, the studios went for it. Say what you will about the film industry’s lack of originality, but it has always been like that.
The story works great. Yes, its based on the old plot of “we need to find the money before its too late!” but it handles that plot with a deft touch that throws in romance and some legitimately nice twists. Dialogue is great in this too, as character verbally spar with aplomb.
About the only complaint I have with the movie lies with one character, Jean-Louis, the little son of Reggie’s best friend. He shows up at a few intervals with an important part to play, but I don’t know if it’s the writing or the fairly bad dubbing on his voice, but he is annoying as all hell.
However, the character work on Regina herself is outstanding and worth noting. She’s vulnerable and in way over her head, but she is anything but helpless. She doesn’t run around with a gun in her hand, but she’s incredibly smart and resourceful, often figuring things out for herself just as often as she finds herself in trouble. Just a fantastically well-realized and believable female lead character.
Original music by Henry Mancini. You can’t go wrong with Mancini and this is very much a truism for this movie. Action sequences have a lot of percussive beats that drive things forward quite nicely as well.
Charade is one of those movies that I love deeply and can watch frequently. It works equally well as a Romantic Comedy as it does a crime thriller and it’s great seeing Coburn and Matthau on screen, but the real heart and soul of the movie belongs to the interaction between Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, and they’re both fantastic in this. Hepburn in particular is radiant and I dare any heterosexual male out there to not fall in love with her even a little bit after watching this. Wholeheartedly recommended.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Well, there’s a crime boss named Mr. Adrian (director Robert F. Slatzer as “Bob Slatzer”) who uses a biker gang that hates him to run drugs for him (usually in broad daylight). An undercover cop investigating the crime ring is killed by a sniper and his brother, Army sergeant Monte (The Sidehackers’ Ross Hagen, who was also the voice of the retired badass gunslinger Landon Ricketts in Red Dead Redemption, which is a neat fact) and the dead cop’s girlfriend Linda (Dee Duffy) join forces and infiltrate the biker gang to get to the bottom of the killing. That’s pretty much the plot and most of the movie involves Monte trying to get in good with the gang and/or bang their women, and there’s some motorcycle driving and a whole lot of padding before the cartoonish ending. Hagen’s not terrible, but the movie sure is. Aside from Hagen, a few other actors/crew were also involved in Sidehackers.
Directed by Robert F. Slatzer the movie doesn’t do a whole lot during the duration. We get some biker partying shenanigans, some motorcycle stuff and eventually some stuff in Mr. Adrian’s very low budget offices. There’s really nothing going for it here aside from a really trippy opening credits background that is inappropriately cosmic.
There is however one scene that bears mentioning. A few bikers menace a painter and his model who are out in a park at one point. It comes out of nowhere, has no bearing on anything and is just a nonsensical temporary diversion that never gets mentioned or explained.
Based on the original story by James Gordon White and screenplay by Tony Houston/Huston (who worked on Sidehackers) & Robert F. Slatzer. Again, there’s not much here. Dialogue is boring, the characters stiff, underdeveloped, unlikable and usually have one character trait that is about all the characterization they get. There’s an eye patch chick, a bad poet, a guy who carries a trumpet around all the time, etc.
No original score, but we get some songs by Davy Jones and the Dolphins and Somebody’s Chyldren. Yeah, there’s a reason you’ve never heard of them.
Another sentence I never thought I’d write: Sidehackers was a better movie than this. The Hellcats suffers most from simply being really boring without enough action scenes to get you through. At least Sidehackers, with all of its nihilism and stupidity at least tried to mix things up a bit here and there with action scenes.
Somehow the trailer manages to be both better AND skeezier than the movie itself.
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) is a former Army Ranger who went to prison for killing a drunken redneck outside of a bar. But that’s the backstory. Flash forward a few years and he’s done his time and just needs to get to a parole hearing for good behavior so he can get back to his wife (Monica Potter) and the seven year old daughter he hasn’t met yet. As such, he’s a passenger on a prisoner transport plane that also happens to be transporting some of the nastiest, meanest, most vicious criminals around. Let’s have U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusak) and DEA Agent Duncan Malloy (Colm Meany) introduce them: (WARNING: Potty Words)
Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom (John Malkovich), Nathan “Diamond Dog” Jones (Ving Rhames), William “Billy Bedlam” Bedford (Nick Chinlund), Joe “Pinball” Parker (Dave Chappelle), Johnny “Johnny-23” Baca (Danny Trejo) are the major players and this being an action movie, OF COURSE Grissom organizes a takeover of the plane. Also on the flight is Garland “The Marietta Mangler” Greene (Steve Buscemi) who’s an extra creepy child killer who just kind of keeps to himself except for when he says something disturbing in that way that only Buscemi can say. He creeps out the other convicts.
So when things go bad, it falls to Poe (and his mane of prison hair) and Larkin to figure out what’s going on and how to stop these violent criminals from escaping and causing even more chaos and destruction.
Somewhere along the way a Corvette gets towed through the air by a cargo plane and the finale involves Las Vegas and a fire truck. It’s THAT kind of movie.
Directed by Simon West, the movie doesn’t really do anything particularly outside-the-box when it comes to 90’s action movies. Still, it knows it’s a goofy action movie and aside from the action set pieces that litter it, there’s a fair number of self-aware goofy touches, like the famous “bunny scene” and the part where one of the convicts’ corpses falls out of a wheel well and lands on small-town America. It’s these kinds of absurd, black comedy touches that give the movie it’s identity.
Written by Scott Rosenberg, the script takes a premise which is essentially “Die Hard on a Plane” and runs with it. Dialogue is snappy and frequently witty and while there’s not a whole lot innovative here, it does its job of entertaining the audience quite well.
Original music by Mark Mancina and Trevor Rabin. Orchestral touches married to electric guitars mean that the soundtrack is anything but subtle. Fairly standard for 90’s action films. There’s also “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd (and Garland Greene readily points out the irony of it) and “How Do I Live” by Trisha Yearwood which is kind of the ending/love theme.
I’m not going to defend Con Air as high art. It’s not. It’s a goofy 90’s Nic Cage action vehicle and for what it is, it’s good cheesy fun, and that is something I CAN defend.
Friday, April 01, 2011
Sean Archer (John Travolta) is an obsessed FBI agent on the trail of the “terrorist for hire” and gleeful psycopath Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage). A while back, Troy accidentally killed Archer’s young son with a bullet that was meant for the agent, and when Archer captures Troy in a dramatic airport sequence, an experimental medical procedure is performed that physically swaps the faces of the two so that Archer can approach Pollux Troy (Alessandro Nivola), Castor’s brother who has information on a deadly bomb plot.
Naturally, Castor Troy (with Archer’s face) breaks out and assumes the FBI agent’s life because fair’s fair, and it gives him an opportunity to make all kinds of trouble for Archer. Obsession, gunfights, and realizations of a “we’re not so different, you and I” nature about.
This was actually John Woo’s second foray into western cinema, and it has all of his signature “heroic bloodshed” touches. Jumping through the air firing two pistols at the same time, big explosions, and doves juxtaposed with violence. To be fair, the action sequences are all incredibly expensive looking and incredibly good. The rest of the movie is kind of eh. Visually its fine, but in terms of pacing, I think it goes on too long.
Written by Mike Werb and Michael Colleary, the script is, well, mostly just “eh.” There’s touches of mythological humor (Castor & Pollux Troy) and there are the occasional bits of very entertaining dialogue, but overall, there’s really little that draws me to the movie. Castor Troy, when played by Cage is easily the best character in the movie, but Sean Archer (as Travolta or Cage) never really strays past the whole “Good but obsessed FBI agent.”
The movie also walks a weird line between “ridiculous amusing” a “ridiculous annoying.” The whole face transplant thing was a pretty far-out concept back in 97, but since it’s the premise of the movie, its both essential and it works for all the crazy pseudoscience they came up to make it work in-movie. (Of course face transplants are a thing that is real now). Honestly, the part where the movie really, I mean really lost me, was the remote prison where Pollox Troy is kept after his capture at the beginning of the movie. So, it’s on an oil rig somewhere in the ocean, and it houses only the MOST dangerous prisoners imaginable, AND the method to keep the prisoners in check is to clap them all in giant metal, MAGNETIC boots that, in the need for a lockdown, literally lock the prisoners down in place. For a sci-fi film I could probably buy that conceit, but for something set in the 90s where the big narrative conceit you have to accept is Nicholas Cage & John Travolta swapping faces (and hair, and height, and voice, and… well, see that’s why it’s a narrative conceit you just have to accept), I just can’t accept MagnetBoot Penitentiary. I mean, what budget committee signed off on that project? The logistics of the undertaking had to be absurd, not to mention the cost of flying food and fresh guards in to relieve the garrison.
The original music by John Powell gets the job done with a mix of orchestral and electronic cues, which works for 90s spy-related movies.
I didn’t dig Face/Off. While the action sequences are impressive, John Woo has a great flair for visual style and Cage & Travolta do admirable jobs imitating each other, there’s just something about the movie that bugged me. Sure, the magnetic boots thing didn’t help and John Travolta just doesn’t do anything for me cinematically, but I think its that, in the quieter moments, the movie tends to bog down and drag itself out. Its as if the movie wants to be viewed as a goofy 90’s action movie AND a serious psychological thriller and it didn’t impress me very much.
Turns out there's a lot of face touching in this movie. SYMBOLISM!